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The Atlanta Child Murders, a 1985 CBS mini series of the week is a good
movie, but not an accurate portrayal of the political establishment of
this still growing city. Former Mayor Andrew Young tried to ban this
movie from airing the city of Atlanta and the surrounding counties. I
am a resident of Decatur, GA 10 miles outside of Atlanta. I was a seven
year old boy when the first of 27 bodies of young Black teenage boys
and two Black girls were found in 1979.
As of this writing Dekalb County Police Chief Graham just five days ago announced that he has reopened the cases of five murders of Black teenage boys that was on the original list of the murdered children. Chief Graham believes Wayne Williams could not have committed these murders. The Atlanta Child Murders screenplay was written by Abby Mann. Mann was a strong supporter along with writer James Baldwin and Civil Rights attorney William Kunstler of Wayne Williams innocence.
The Atlanta Child Murders film captures masterfully the fear and outrage that gripped the city (Atlanta) that eventually hosted the 1996 Olympics Summer Games. Mann attempted not to offend the politicians such as Former Governor Busby and Former Mayor Maynard Jackson whom were both in office at the time of the child murders and whom had the most to lose politically if these murders was not quickly solved. In my opinion Wayne Williams did not commit all of these murders. He would have had to been Superman to get around the city to commit all of these murders in the time frame the authorities was finding bodies. Wayne Williams was only convicted of killing two men who was considered the last victims of the list.
I give this movie ***stars. Good, but not excellent. This movie is not on DVD.
I saw this movie as a young girl in the mid eighties and needless to
say, especially being a young black child, it scared me. I just wanted
to comment on what the previous commenter said. Though I am in no way
claiming Wayne Williams is innocent, the murders and disappearances
didn't stop with Williams' conviction as he stated, they actually
continued until early '83 sparking talk that he may not have actually
been the killer.
The evidence used to convict him was flimsy at best and there were actually over 100 children and young adults declared missing and or found dead. Williams was described as a "very weird" individual and did he commit these murders? Who knows but, the majority of evidence did not point towards him, there were over 100 children and young adults killed about 30 of them AFTER he was in jail.
Excellent, gripping Made-For-TV story of the abductions and murders of
African-American children, adolescents, and adults in Atlanta in the
early 80's, and the sensational trial of the one man brought to justice
for these crimes. The murders and trial polarized the communities of
Atlanta and its environs, and the TV Movie re-creates this stunningly
well in its deliberately ambiguous portrayal of suspect Wayne Williams,
the evidence against him, and the issues of presenting a capital case
based almost solely on circumstantial evidence. Just as the case
inspires controversy up to this day, so does this movie.
Calvin Levels has Wayne Williams down pat in this production - alternately charming, charismatic, strange, and menacing - and creates a web of confused desires and motives that deliberately leaves audiences guessing - what REALLY happened on that bridge? Co-stars Morgan Freeman, Jason Robards, Rip Torn and Gloria Foster provide equally interesting performances throughout. While some viewers, especially those living in the Atlanta communities affected by these events, may be dismayed or even angered by the portrayal of the law-enforcement authorities attempting to make sense of this case, their issue is more with the deliberate manner in which no real sides are taken by the producers of this film. If in more recent decades the historic portrayal of White apathy towards crimes committed on Blacks is universally deemed insulting or unacceptable, then perhaps some progress has been made after all.
When the "Atlanta Child Murders" first aired in the mid-'80s, it didn't
raise too many eyebrows - even though Abby Mann's script intimates in
the concluding minutes of the miniseries that convicted culprit Wayne
Williams may NOT be the murderer of dozens of young men and boys in a
horrifying crime spree that held Georgia's biggest city spellbound with
fear three decades ago. Given Mann's film-making track record -
"Judgment at Nuremberg," "King," etc. - nobody was going to accuse him
of being a conservative. In fact, most of his work has always seemed
philosophically bound by a boilerplate leftism and a near-obsession
with black/white race relations in America. It wasn't too much of a
surprise that he would spring his unique - and frankly bizarre - theory
on network television. For Mann, Williams was the victim of incompetent
police work, corrupt city government and that old devil, racism. OK.
But now, it's 20 years later. Wayne Williams is still in prison. While the serial killings of Atlanta's young have not continued (in fact, they stopped with Williams' arrest in 1981), Williams still maintains his innocence. So, where's Abby? Shouldn't he be working for William's freedom? Or, if he's changed his mind, repudiating his own theory? I mean: We're stuck with a 1985-vintage "J'accuse" that seems to have been conveniently forgotten by its own creator. Where's Abby? Is he sitting up in Beverly Hills with the rest of the Hollywood Chardonnay proletariat, reading the Daily Worker and ordering the Third World servants around?
If Wayne Williams is innocent, shouldn't SOMEONE be trying to free this poor victim-of-the-system from prison? And if, indeed, he's guilty, why did Abby Mann ever say he was innocent? Real mystery, huh?
In the 1980s black children began disappearing from the streets of
Atlanta, Georgia, and it took the authorities quite a while to catch
on. The press wasn't paying much attention because the murder of a
visitor of high social standing was dominating the news. But because of
the prodding by police detective Morgan Freeman and the pro bono
investigations of a former detective Michael Sheen, the polaroid image
of a serious serial killer slowly emerges from the emulsion. They got
him, but not before many more victims.
It would have been easy to turn this into a politically correct story of indifferent white mayors and cops versus innocent, quietly suffering black families. That's what I expected, since this was written by Abby Mann, who also wrote "Judgment at Nuremburg," in which every single German was guilty of being complicit in the Nazi genocidal program. There was simple good, and then there was simple evil. He accepted his Academy Award "in the name of all intellectuals everywhere." For whatever reason -- perhaps because Atlanta was run largely by African-Americans -- Mann provides a much more balanced film here. It's a surprisingly intelligent script. James Earl Jones, who in real life radiates good will, is the stubborn mayor who refuses to address the problem with all the city's resources. The police treat the early disappearances as examples of bad parenting in dysfunctional families, forcing the mothers to take lie detector tests and otherwise humiliating them.
The antagonists themselves are now black "from top to bottom." Some of the white guys are actually on the side of the angels, while Atlanta's black community is quick to blame whites for trying to kill off blacks. The African-Americans are not only mistaken but their anger seems to be only a recent explosion of their underlying hatred of whites. "Hate is the only reality," shouts one protester, demonstrating the point. Acknowleding black racism in a made-for-TV movie is unusual enough to warrant the observation that we're all imperfect.
Atlanta's black children are understandably terrified. They're just old enough to understand the threat. And their denials and fantasies are sadly uninformed. One boasts that the killer will never get him because he's watched so many Bruce Lee movies and has learned Dai Gwan Do.
After a year and a half and a few dozen bodies, the bridges of Atlanta have been staked out by police. One cop hears a splash and alerts the others. The man driving slowly off the bridge is Wayne Williams, a presentable young black man who wears aviator glasses. He's a perfect target and the authorities are desperate, yet no one saw him stop his car, drag a bundle to the rail, and drop it into the Chatahootchie River, nor does an immediate search turn up a body. Williams is picked up and questioned by the police. He fails a polygraph test and his lawn and home become the center of a paroxysm of media attention. The press is savaged but Williams himself begins to do things that are weird. He calls a "press conference" in which he just hands out papers of his mostly faked resumé. He brags about having outwitted his police tail.
When he's arrested, he's defended by Jason Robards, Jr.. The prosecution is led by the grim Rip Torn, aided by Andy Robinson, a human teratoma, the serial killer from "Dirty Harry." The movie clearly takes Williams' side. In a script by Abby Mann there must be outrage against injustice. There must be impassioned speeches. Any intellectual will tell you that.
I won't go through the trial itself, which is presented in the usual Perry Mason fashion: the prosecution spends a moment presenting evidence; the defense by the unimpeachable Jason Robards, Jr., spends twice that time tearing it apart. It's easy to cast doubt on scientific evidence because science is based on probability, never certainty. That rules out "yes" and "no." If you ask a scientist to say he's absolutely certain of something, he must answer no. Will the sun rise tomorrow? The only correct answer is "probably." Then again every study has limitations. You say the DNA at the crime scene matches that of the suspect. Did you test the DNA of everyone on earth? No? Then you can't be sure, can you? Of course eyewitness testimony is more appealing but even more likely to be suspect, as social psychologists have repeatedly demonstrated.
Morgan Freeman's juiced up detective is a triumph. He's an exceptional actor who has always elevated whatever film he's appeared in, through villainous and heroic roles. Sheen is casual and effective. Some of the supporting cast stand out as well, including Lynne Moody as a bereaved and angry single parent, while others out-herod Herod. CCH Pounder is memorable too. And Ruby Dee, my co-star, is always reliable. Ernest Harden Jr. as a street smart witness called "Cool Breeze" is side splitting.
The media are shown as ruthless agents of tabloid journalism. That's okay, but Mann has the message spelled out by a shouting parent, while it's already been amply displayed on screen. The script doesn't always give the viewer much credit for sensitivity. The camera lingers on a hysterically sobbing mother. If anyone wants to see how such grief can be handled differently, watch Fritz Lang's "M", a German movie about a child murder, in which mothers grieve mostly offscreen. Lang figured that we already KNOW they're mourning.
John Erman has exercised care in his direction. Excellent staging and camera placement, without directorial excess, except for one or two dysrhythmic shots. The editing is noticeably good too; some of the cuts come at precisely the right unexpected instant.
I remember watching this movie, I was about 14 years old living in
California at the time, and it still scared the hell out of me. Even to
this day I don't know if I would or could watch it again due to that
fact. Most people think that the killings stopped when Wayne was put
behind bars but they didn't. The FBI, even the President of the United
States knew that a race war could blow up in downtown Atlanta if the
public knew what the FBI knew of certain members of the KKK's
involvement. The FBI have phone taps of certain members of the KKK, one
person more then any other knew a lot of those kids that had been
killed, even telling an FBI informant that he was going to kill one of
them. Guess what that kid ended up being killed.
Now im not saying that Wayne is innocent of any of the killings, but things don't make since. A serial killer hardly ever changes his course. Ted Bundy loved brunettes with parts down the middle of their hair, Wayne Gacy loved white men who were gay. The Green River killer killed street walkers. Are we to believe that Wayne Williams went from killing little kids to full grown adults??? Are we to believe that Wayne Williams killed these adults by himself, strangled them even though some were bigger and stronger then he was and then toss them into a river.
No murder weapon was ever found, stories have been changed to fit Wayne Williams must of been the culprit.
Wayne Williams have recently tried to get DNA testing, which I do not know has been passed or denied, but why would it be denied? That one person the FBI had hard feelings about stated he had a Siberian Husky, Wanye Williams had a Shepard. EArly stories of some of the killings stated that Husky hair had been found, Later they to changed to Shepard hairs in changing of stories.
5 of the kids that were found were found in a park where this person and his brother visited on a regular basis.
Also most serial killers keep trophies, nothing like this was ever found at any spot where Wayne Williams lived or worked at? People say he hated black youths, but then the same people say he loved to seduce black teens.
I don't think we will ever know what happened in Atlanta, so many witness have changed stories, people have died, Aids probably killed a lot of witness, or people close to the case. The victims were raped, and Aids being pretty much a fast death sentence at that time could of probably killed the killer(s) as well.
I for one do not thing Wayne Williams was given a fair trial. The trial was rushed, his lawyers were buried with a mountain of evidence to sort thru in such a limited time. Witness changed their stories in mid trial. Williams' layweres were not allowed certain evidence that would help to release him.
Robards and Torn are the best part of this long crime drama that you must struggle to stay with. The plot gets confusing and the already mentioned stars give the film its only stand out performances
This was a very gripping and well-made tv film about the real life serial murder case that rocked Atlanta in the early 1980's. A deranged killer held the whole city in the icy grip of fear like the Son of Sam did in New York. This film is like Dragnet in its no-nonsense telling of the murders and the horror that rocked a nation. It has an unusually distinguished cast that all give fine performances. Morgan Freeman, Rip Torn, Jason Robards and Andrew Robinson (who was the killer in Dirty Harry). However, this film falls into an all familiar Hollywood liberal trap after Wayne Williams arrest and its depiction of his trial. It tries to convince you that Wayne Williams was like an innocent little boy who was railroaded and put away. It tries to convince you that he was innocent. To this day, he is appealing his sentence. I want to tell all of you something right here and now. WAYNE WILLIAMS IS WHERE HE BELONGS!!!HE IS THE ATLANTA CHILD KILLER!!!!HE DID IT CASE CLOSED!!!There is a brilliant book that I read recently called Mindhunter by John Douglas who is a retired FBI Agent. Mister Douglas was a pioneer in profiling of serial killers, creating a psychological profile of the monsters who deal in mass murder. He helped the prosecution in the trial of Wayne Williams. First of all, Williams fit the profile of the Atlanta killer like a glove. He was a police buff who tried to get himself involved in the investigation. These sick guys subconsciously want to get caught you know. There were hair and fibers found in his automobile that matched the victims exactly. I mean people, if there is that kind of evidence against you THAT IS IT!!!I will tell you something else from Wayne William's trial that is not generally well known. PLEASE PASS IT ON!!!John Douglas conferred with the prosecutor before he cross examined Williams and he told him how to do it. He said to hit him hard and stand close to him. The prosecutor followed this strategy and at one point, he said to Williams "What was it like when you wrapped your hands around their throats Wayne? What was it like? Did you panic?" Before he could catch himself, Williams stammered out "NO". Did you get this folks? HE CONFESSED ON THE STAND THAT HE DID IT!!!!Then Williams went as and started screaming at the prosecutor. The jury couldn't believe it! They said afterwards that was the turning point. Wayne Williams made a full confession as far as I am concerned. The bastard did it and he is lucky to have escaped with a life sentence CASE CLOSED!!!!However, this is a fine film. Jason Robards gives a fine performance as the defense attorney. He almost reminds me of Clarence Darrow. He was a hero in real life as well. He was in the Pearl Harbor attack and won the Navy Cross for bravery. God bless you Mister Robards and sleep well.
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